Htn. Cty. board backs paper on lift bridge

HOUGHTON – The Houghton County Board of Commissioners passed a motion of support in favor of a white paper for supplements to or replacements for the Portage Lake Lift Bridge at its monthly board meeting Tuesday.

Jack Dueweke, emergency coordinator for Houghton and Keweenaw counties, presented a white paper put together by the Portage Lake Lift Bridge Planning Group Tuesday.

“The lift bridge is a mechanical device,” he said. “It’s an extremely well-maintained mechanical device, but for 50 years it has suffered the slings and arrows that the weather and environment throw at it in the Copper Country.”

The biggest short-term priority is an exercise involving a pontoon bridge, which might be used in case of a bridge outage, Dueweke said.

Replacing the lift bridge with a span bridge would cost about $40 to $50 million, Dueweke said. The money for such a bridge might be obtained through a planned obsolence such as that of Ontonagon’s former bridge, where money previously used on upkeep was put towards a new bridge.

“A mechanical bridge offers logistical issues and problems that a regular span bridge does not,” he said. “I would say that would be off in the future, but I’d love for (the Michigan Department of Transportation) to get that on their radar. And if we can get some mining revenue here coming back to the Copper Country and we can have a source of revenue, maybe that could make that project even more likely to happen.”

Calls for finding alternate routes or upgrading the bridge gained momentum in August 2010, when the bridge was stuck in the up position for several hours.

The white paper will be distributed to politicians, agency heads and various “movers and shakers” in an effort to get momentum for some suggested actions for the bridge.

Dueweke said the white paper followed similar approval by the Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners.